Arkady Kots: We Will Have to Fight for the Future

Arkady Kots, The Belarusian Collection
Dec 28, 2020

We support rebellious Belarus. We hope that Belarusian workers, “social parasites,” women, students, pensioners, and the entire Belarusian nation wrest power from the bat-brained dictator and don’t surrender it to anyone.

00:00 – Solidarity
03:20 – Bella Ciao
06:28 – Walls
10:11 – Prison Song
13:01 – Song of the Jewish Partisans (“Zog nit keyn mol”)
19:22 – There Is Power in a Union
22:56 – Women’s Song (“L’hymne des femmes”)
25:19 – Counterattack
29:19 – Lusya
33:06 – Forest Song
35:55 – Peramozham
38:53 – Fog
41:10 – Who Shoots at Workers
44:44 – Nothing Works Without Love

#ArkadyKots #Walls #BelarusianCollection

_______________________________

“We Will Have to Fight for the Future!”
Arkady Kots premieres an album in support of Belarusian protesters on the Novaya Gazeta website
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
December 28, 2020

Nikolay Oleynikov, musician, artist, and soloist in the group Arkady Kots:

We have been following the protests in Belarus from the outset. We were happy when our song “Walls” became one of the main [protest] songs there. And we were about to go to Minsk, everything was ready, but then the guys who invited us and promised to organize several concerts at factory gates wrote: “Stand down, all the factory gates have been occupied by the police.”

It is a pity that we were not able [to do the concerts], but it increased our desire to help Belarusians from here.

We saw that our government basically supports Lukashenko, and we thought it important to sing on behalf of those Russians who are unequivocally against the rout of the elections, against the savage crackdown, who support an independent Belarus, a country near and dear to us. Both our new songs and old ones gradually formed a statement that eventually turned into The Belarusian Collection.

First we understood how to make a Russian version of a song we had been trying to do for a long time—“Solidarity,” by the English punk band Angelic Upstarts, written in the 80s in support of the Polish trade unions. It has this interesting moment, atypical for protest songs, especially leftist ones—a reference to religion. “And we’ll pray for our nation through its darkest times,” they sing in the original. Sincere faith can drive a protest very far: priests played a big role in the Polish Solidarity  movement of the 70s and 80s. That victory, by the way, has shown its flip side today. The conservatives [in Poland] are trying to deprive women of the right to abortion, the right is in power, and the system is clearly distant from what the trade unionists fought for back in the day against the regime and the bureaucracy. But when we see how the priests in Minsk have been supporting the protesters, hiding them from the riot police in churches, this is what we want to sing.

Well, and then there are the workers who came to the forefront of the political struggle in Belarus at some point: that’s another great story, of course, and, I hope, it’s a story that hasn’t ended. Without the workers, a revolution is doomed: new elites seize power and continue to exploit people under new slogans.

We saw how our friends from the leftist party A Just World were bullied and imprisoned: two years ago, we recorded our version of the famous Chilean anthem “Venceremos” in Belarusian (“Peramozham”) for them. Masha Shakuro, who is from the Minsk group Boston Tea Party and, simultaneously, the captain of the Belarusian national rugby team, spent two weeks in prison. Two years ago, she and her band to Moscow for our festival Punk Against Electroshock Torture.

We were involved in PartiZan Fest, which, due to the pressure the authorities put on the clubs, could not be held live. Consequently, the festival was broadcast on TV Rain, and they managed to raise $30,000 for victims of the crackdown in Belarus.

In parallel, we have been recording with European musicians. The Partisan Album features anti-fascist songs from the Second World War, which, of course, included the Belarusian “Forest Song” (“Birches and Pines”), as well as our version of “Bella Ciao,” which contains a reference to the Belarusian partisans. Then there are two completely new tracks that you will hear in this anthology: “Jewish Song” by Hirsch Glick, a poet of the Vilna Ghetto, and the experimental composition “Counterattack,” set to a poem by the Warsaw Ghetto poet Władysław Szlengel, who died during the Uprising. The video for “Counterattack” was made by the Belarusian artist and historian Aliaksandra Osipova, who is from Pinsk. Although she realized that she was taking a risk, Aliaksandra agreed to direct a short film for this track. “The main idea was to combine the moving masses of color and the masses of people, to show the tension between the universality of the struggle and the concreteness of the gestures of resistance and defiance,” she says.

It is interesting how at such moments non-obvious connections and identities are actualized, and it turns out that you have many friends with Belarusian roots. Guys from the diaspora have given us “honorary Belarusians” certificates. I sing in Belarusian as a sign of anti-imperial solidarity, while Kirill Medvedev recalls his great-grandfather Semyon Ilyushenko from near Vitebsk, who fought in the Red Army under Frunze, and then created Soviet jet fuel in a sharashka.

In this covid year, it is as if the old map of Europe has been redrawn for us. New lines are emerging, Soviet and non-Soviet roots are connecting into something new, into a future for which we will still have to fight, and not only with songs.

Speaking of fascism. The other day, our bandmate Oleg Zhuravlev, a sociologist and co-founder of Arkady Kots, was brutally beaten and robbed by the cops in Petersburg, after which he was kept out in the cold all night in a cage with the window wide open. And yesterday exactly the same thing happened to the Petersburg historian Pavel Demchenko, in the very same 28th police precinct on Marat Street [in downtown Petersburg]. Now the guys are combining their cases, and communicating with lawyers to make as big a dent as possible in police lawlessness. The Russian police have recently been rapidly rushing down the road to hell, trying to compete with Lukashenko’s police, apparently.

In the meantime, I want to congratulate everyone on the passing year, a year of many terrible deaths, extreme violence and heroism. I hope the future will be peaceful and beautiful. Listen to The Belarusian Collection!

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image (below) courtesy of the Arkady Kots Bandcamp page

Russian Justice Ministry Adds Five New “Foreign Agents” to Its List

“The register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent has been updated. On December 28, 2020, in compliance with the requirements of the current legislation of the Russian Federation, Darya Apahonchich, Denis Kamalyagin, Sergey Markelov, Lev Ponomarev, and Lyudmila Savitskaya were included in the register of foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent.” Screenshot of Russian Justice Ministry website, 28 December 2020

Human Rights Activists Lev Ponomaryov and Four Other People Added to List of “Foreign Agents”
OVD Info
December 28, 2020

For the first time, the Russian Ministry of Justice has placed individuals, including journalists and the human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, on its registry of “[foreign] mass media acting as foreign agents,” as reflected on the ministry’s website.

Lev Ponomaryov, head of the movement For Human Rights, Radio Svoboda and MBKh Media journalist Lyudmila Savitskaya, 7×7 journalist Sergei Markelov, Pskovskaya Guberniya editor-in-chief Denis Kamalyagin, and grassroots activist and performance artist Darya Apahonchich.

Savitskaya, Markelov and Kamalyagin were probably placed on the registry of “foreign agents” due to their work with Radio Svoboda, which was placed on the registry of “foreign agents” in 2017.

In late December, the State Duma introduced and partly considered bills that would tighten the law on “foreign agents.” Thus, repeated violations of accountability under the law can now result in five years in prison. According to the new clarifications, the status of “foreign agent” can be granted to individuals engaged in political activities and receiving money for this work from abroad. Another bill would prohibit the dissemination of information in the media produced by foreign agents unless it is specially labelled.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Stopping Foreign Agents, Killing Russian Education

“Entry is prohibited”

Control, Censorship and Foreign Agents: How the Amendments to the Law “On Education” Will Affect All of Us
Ella Rossman
Mel
December 24, 2020

On December 23, the State Duma passed in its first reading a bill that would amend the law “On Education.” After the bill is passed into law, “anti-Russian forces” will no longer be able to “freely conduct a wide range of propaganda activities among schoolchildren and university students.” Tatyana Glushkova, a lawyer at the Memorial Human Rights Center, joined us to figure out what is happening.

Regulation International Cooperation
On November 18, 2020, fifteen Russian MPs proposed amendments to the law “On Education” that would regulate international cooperation on the part of educational organizations, as well as all educational activities in Russia itself.

The law would regulate interactions between educational organizations (i.e. licensed organizations) and foreigners. If the law is adopted, schools and universities would, in fact, be banned from engaging in all types of international cooperation without the approval of federal authorities. In this case, any interaction by an educational organization with foreign organizations or individuals would fall under the definition of “international cooperation.”

“International cooperation is when a Russian educational organization develops and implements joint educational programs with an organization or individual, sends pupils, students and instructors abroad (and they receive scholarships there), accepts foreign students and instructors to study and work in Russian organizations, conducts joint scholarly research, organizes international conferences and participates in them, and simply exchanges educational or scholarly literature with an entity or individual. After the law is adopted, all these activities, except for the admission of foreign students, would be possible only with permission from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education or the Ministry of Education.”
—Tatyana Glushkova, lawyer

According to Glushkova, the procedure for issuing permits would  be established by the government. “How would this affect international cooperation on the part of educational organizations? Obviously, negatively.”

“This is actually a revival of the idea that instructors should have to obtain permission to take part in international conferences, not to mention more meaningful interactions with foreign colleagues. Moreover, these permits would not even be issued by university administrations, but by a ministry.

“Given such conditions, universities and schools would engage in much less international cooperation. Obtaining any permission is a bureaucratic process that requires resources. It would be easier for some organizations to cancel international events than to get approval for them,” Glushkova says.

According to Glushkova, it is currently unclear what conditions would need to be met in order to obtain permissions. This would be established by new Russian government regulations, and so far we can only guess what they would look like.

Control of All “Educational Activities”
As the bill’s authors write in an explanatory note, the new bill must be adopted, since without it, “anti-Russian forces” can almost freely conduct a “wide range of propaganda activities” among schoolchildren and university students.

The Russian MPs argue that many such events are “aimed at discrediting Russian state policy,” as well as at revising attitudes toward history and “undermining the constitutional order.”

The amendments would affect both official educational organizations in Russia (schools and universities) and those engaged in “educational activities” outside of these institutions. At the same time, the proposed law defines the concept of “educational activities” as broadly as possible—in fact, it encompasses all activities in which new skills, knowledge, values or experiences are taught “outside the framework of educational programs.”

Anyone from tutors to bloggers could fall into this category.

The bill gives the authorities the right to regulate the entire sphere of educational activities. It not yet clear of how this would be organized: the details of what would be controlled and how it would be controlled are not spelled out in the bill.

Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Sakharov Center, dubbed the amendments “revolutionary in the sad sense of the word,” as they would allow the government to declare the exchange of almost any type of information as “education” and therefore subject to regulation, that is, to what amounts to censorship.

Glushkova outlined the context in the new bill has emerged.

The bill was submitted to the State Duma at the same time as a whole package of other bills that, formally, would significantly limit the activities of different civil society organizations in Russia.

To put it simply, they would simply crush the remnants of Russian civil society that haven’t been killed off yet.

One of these bills would institute full government control over NGOs listed in the register of “foreign agents.” It would give the Ministry of Justice the right to suspend (in whole or in part) the activities of such organizations at any time. Another bill introduces the concept of “unregistered foreign-agent organizations,” and also expands the scope for designating individuals as “foreign agents.”

If an unregistered organization or individual is included in the register of foreign agents, they would be required to report to the Ministry of Justice, including their expenses. At the same time, all founders, members, managers and employees of foreign-agent organizations (whether registered or not) would be required to declare their status as “foreign agents” when making any public statement concerning the government.

For example, if a cleaning lady who works for an NGO wanted to write on her social network page that her apartment is poorly heated, she would have to indicate that she is affiliated with a “foreign agent.” Naturally, sanctions are provided for violations of all these regulations, and in some cases they include criminal liability.

In my opinion, these bills are not a reaction on the part of the authorities to any actual foreign or domestic political events. They are just another round of “tightening the screws” and attacking civil society.

The regime’s ultimate goal is the ability to do anything, however lawless, without suffering the consequences and without having to endure even critical feedback from society. This process has been going on since 2012 at least.

In order to achieve this goal, the regime seeks, first, to declare everything that has at least some connection with foreign countries (which, in its opinion, are the main source of criticism of events in our country) suspicious, unreliable and harmful. Second, it is trying to take maximum control of all public activities related to the dissemination of information and the expression of civic stances.

The amendments to the law “On Education” would affect not only all educators, but also people who probably have never considered themselves educators. For example, if I publish an article on the internet on what to do if you buy a defective product, I am engaged in “activities aimed at disseminating knowledge.”

If I do a master class on embroidery, that would be deemed “an activity aimed at disseminating skills.”

Both activities would fall under the definition of educational activities. In fact, any dissemination of information could be declared an “educational activity.” All educational activities, according to the bill, would now have to be implemented on the terms established by Russian federal government and under its control.

We still do not know what the rules will be. They could be quite mild, or they could be harsh. Don’t forget that an indulgent regime can be tightened at any time. You merely need to adopt a regulation—not a law, whose approval entails a complex procedure, but only a government decree.

Thanks to Valentina Koganzon for the heads-up. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

How I Was Friends with Billionaires

Igor Mints, Rustam Yulbarisov, and Sasha Mints. Courtesy of Rustam Yulbarisov

How I Was Friends with Billionaires
Rustam Yulbarisov
Zanovo
November 1, 2020

This is a saga of two families, of poverty and wealth, and of the twin brothers who helped me see the biggest difference between people.

I learned that humanity was divided into classes at School No. 963. My mother managed to get me into the first A class, which was considered a university prep class, in contrast to the proletarian B and C classes. We studied English, drawing, ballroom dancing, and even the Vietnamese martial art Việt Võ Đạo, which was taught by an Azerbaijani. The school fees were also higher.

I learned directly about the divisions between people from my friendship with my classmates Sasha and Igor. I don’t know what caused us to become friends, but now I am sure that it was inevitable, because we had too much in common. Our families had moved to Moscow from the regions. We lived in neighboring houses on the same floors. We were non-Russian, and they were also a little non-Russian. They were twin brothers, and I had a brother. They clobbered each other, and we clobbered each other. Our fathers worked as officials in the new Russian government. They even gave their sons identical jackets: green ones for us and purple ones for them, and our mothers gave us identical books—Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs.

The book so fascinated us that we formed a club called UGS (UFO and Ghost Society) and got a notebook in which we recorded the mystical happenings in our courtyard. We would visit each other, watch movies on videotape, and play LEGO. I liked going to their house more because we had a one-room apartment and they had a five-room apartment. I had to lie that we had another room, a secret one. Most importantly, they had a computer, at which I sat with the twins in turn on the same chair, battling it out on Heroes of Might and Magic II, with its codes for black dragons. Our family would get a computer later.

Our friendship ended in the eighth grade. Igor and Sasha went to study at University Prep School No. 1501 (affiliated with the STANKIN, the Moscow State Technology University), taking with them all the classmates with whom I was friends. I stayed at School No. 963 because I acted in the theater club and didn’t want to get my life entangled in machine tool engineering, mathematics and economics.

I will always remember the conversation we had in the hallway at school. We were walking past the changing rooms on the ground floor and discussing our position in the world.

“We’re middle class,” I said.

“No, we’re upper class,” they said.

Their names were Igor and Sasha (Alexander) Mints.

We’re Not the Mintses

I can still tell which Mints is which. Igor has a longer face. He’s on the left. Sasha has a rounder face and a lower voice. He’s on the right. Igor was considered a bully, and Sasha was more easy-going. I was more friends with Igor, and my brother was closer to Sasha. Their mother, Marina, is in the middle. Photo: Irina Buzhor/Kommersant

In early 2020, the Basmanny District Court in Moscow arrested in absentia Boris Mints, owner of O1 Group, and his sons Alexander (Sasha) and Dmitry, and put them on the international wanted list. The Mintses have been charged with a serious crime—aggravated embezzlement, punishable under Article 160.4 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code. The punishment for the crime is ten years in prison.

The Russian Investigative Committee accused the Mintses of embezzling 34 billion rubles from Otkritie Bank when it bought bonds from O1 Group. According to investigators, in 2017, Otkritie’s chair, Yevgeny Dankevich, agreed with the management of O1 Group to buy its bonds, although he knew that the real value of the securities was less than half of their face value. O1 Group repaid its loans from Oktritie ahead of schedule with the money made from the sale of the bonds. Shortly after the deal was concluded, Otkritie and Trust Bank were taken over by the Russian Central Bank.

The parties sued each other in court in the UK. The Mintses moved to London before the investigation was launched, and Dankevich went into hiding in Israel. The banks petitioned the court to freeze $572 million of the Mintses’ assets, including the Tower of Lethendy in Scotland, four hotels, two estates, and a residential building in Haifa. In 2017, Forbes estimated that Boris Mints was worth $1.3 billion, but a year later he had dropped out of the top ranks. He said that the two banks, in collusion with the Central Bank, had launched a “campaign” against him due to “strong personal animosity.” In 2018, Mints had to sell Budushchee pension fund, which was one of the three largest non-state pension funds in Russia, to pay his debts. Budushchee (“Future”) had made losses for its clients two years in a row, losing “every eighth ruble belonging to pensioners.” “If we all crash, then the country will crash,” Mints said in an interview.

I have nothing to brag about. My biggest crime is slightly injuring a couple of neo-Nazis. I also shoplifted clothes from stores. When I was young, I didn’t have enough clothes. I wanted to look attractive in front of the girls, and not wear jackets handed down to me by older relatives.

“We’re not the Mintses,” my mother would tell us when we couldn’t afford something. That was the most frequent phrase she muttered when talking about our family’s financial circumstance. The second most popular phrase was “we don’t have any money.” My brother remembers his childhood as “cold and gloomy.” I was forever saddled with an anxiety about what tomorrow would bring.

The last time I met Mintses in our neighborhood was before I went to university. A friend and I were drinking beer outside when a foreign-made car passed by. I recognized my school friend at the wheel. He stopped and opened the window. I smiled and put the beer on the roof of the car to free my hand for a handshake.

“Take it off, you’ll scratch the paint,” he said.

The irony is that my father doesn’t just know Boris Mints. Their career paths had been similar in many ways: both started as officials in regional governments, and then transferred to the presidential administration—with one nuance.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Boris Mints. Photo: Vladislav Shatilo/RBC

Boris Mints earned his first capital during perestroika: “It was fabulous money at the time—140-150 thousand rubles.” He was an associate professor of higher mathematics at the Ivanovo Textile Institute when he started working at a youth center for scientific and technical creativity (NTTM) in 1987. Mints wrote programs for automating jobs at textile mills, and along with them, he sold computers through his NTMM, receiving non-cash payments from enterprises, which were then cashed out. This scheme—selling computers and converting the sales into cash through an NTTM—was also employed by the future oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In 1990, Mints became involved in privatizing the Ivanovo economy, heading its property management committee. In this capacity he met the head of the federal property committee, Anatoly Chubais, who hired him to join his team. Chubais then became the head of the presidential administration, and Mints was appointed head of the presidential office on local government. This position put him in contact with Russia’s leading lights, including Boris Yeltsin.

My father, Ildar Yulbarisov, graduated from the geology faculty of Moscow State University in 1981 and went off to explore the depths in the most remote corners of our Soviet homeland. In 1990, he was elected First Secretary of the Ufa City Komsomol Committee, but a year later he left because he “did not want to see the country and the Party fall apart.” My father enrolled in the Russian Academy of Foreign Trade in Moscow, while also working at the Bashkirian mission there. In 1994, my father returned to Bashkiria, where he worked for seven years. He would bring us chak-chak and Moscow sausage from Ufa.

The Mintses moved to Moscow in 1994. The Yulbarisovs had moved there in 1991. The two families crossed paths at Timiryazevskaya subway station.

“Dad, do you remember how you met Boris Mints?”

“I was hired to work in the administration of the President of the Republic of Bashkortostan. We knew the country’s leadership and the administration of the President of the Russian Federation, of course. One day Boris Mints showed up there. You and your brother went to visit them once, and your mother asked me to go pick you up. Boris opened the door. We greeted each other like old acquaintances. I told him that we were in the same system, and hinted that I would also like to move to Moscow. Then he invited me to his office on Staraya Ploshchad, and I invited him to Ufa for Sabantuy. There he met with President Murtaza Rakhimov. Mints was very pleased with the trip. When I accompanied on the way back, he said, ‘Murtaza is happy with you. You shouldn’t leave.'”

The 90s came to an end, as did the Yeltsin era. Vladimir Putin came to power, recruiting a new team. In 2000, Boris Mints left the presidential administration to invest in commercial real estate. In 2000, my father left the post of deputy department head at the Ministry of Ethnic Policy and went into the business of oilfield exploration. Mints was ranked among the top 100 richest people in Russia, and his son Sasha made it into the top ten most eligible bachelors in the country. In the Yulbarisov household, buckwheat and chicken on the table were replaced by pilaf and vak belyashi, which my father cooked with goose. I saved up the money I was given for lunch, spending it on dates with girls in cafes. I pretended that I wasn’t hungry.

The Mintses went to MGIMO to study international economic relations, while I continued a family tradition by majoring in journalism at Moscow State University.  Once our football team played at MGIMO. We went nuts in the stands, burning flares and, finally, pissing the hell out of their gym, because no one liked the rich kids from MGIMO, not even the rich kids from Moscow State.

What the Mintses Fear

Ildar Yulbarisov, the last First Secretary of the Ufa Komsomol Committee, 1990. Photo: Vechernyaya Ufa

“Dad, according to my rough calculations, we are 1,500 times poorer than the Mintses. Why is there such a difference, if you both worked in government, and then went into business?”

“No big business is created by the labor of the people who own it because it is impossible to create such value independently: there are physiological limits. Capital accumulates only if the surplus value that other people create is confiscated from them. And if you add financial fraud to capitalist exploitation, in which people “voluntarily” engage in wage labor, you get these incredible figures. I have never taken anything that belonged to someone else.”

“Maybe Mints worked harder and better than you?”

“He had a chance, and took it. It was facilitated by his personal qualities, upbringing, and system of values. He went into politics to achieve personal enrichment. I’m a simple Soviet man.”

“Did you want to take bribes and steal when you worked in politics? Or did you just not have the chance?”

“No. I was involved in two election campaigns. They would bring us cash and put it on the table. I didn’t take a kopeck, because I’m an idealist. I was 26 years old when I became a full-time Komsomol worker. I had a clear idea of what I was doing: helping people and improving life in the republic. My father taught me to be honest, and the Komsomol taught me to be responsible to the people. We had a big NTTM attached to the Komsomol city committee in Ufa. They sold everything there, and then would go booze it up at a restaurant. They gave me Italian shoes. I didn’t have to do what they did, since we lived well under communism. I had a salary of 525 rubles a month, your mother worked as a teacher and made another 220 rubles a month. We set half of it aside.”

“Are you comparing yourself to Mints?”

“No, we have had different lives. I’m not jealous, because we had unequal opportunities. There were much fewer opportunities to earn money working for the regional authorities. Today, it is obvious that the Russia inside the Garden Ring and the Russia outside it are two different countries.”

“What is the main difference between the Yulbarisovs and the Mintses?”

“Over three decades, capitalism in Russia has degenerated into its most savage form, dividing people into the poorest and richest strata. According to the most conservative estimates, five percent of the population owns seventy percent of the wealth in Russia. We are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, while the Mintses are at the top. But the situation on the moral ladder is different: the Yulbarisovs are at the top, while Mintses are at the bottom. We’re poor, but we’re honest.”

“You know that sounds like an excuse, right?”

“That’s exactly what it sounds like. I’m not worried about it. It’s you young people who are out of luck. Now wages are paid so people don’t die of hunger, and in addition there is the cult of consumption and the cult of success. The world is getting worse, but I’m sure there will be a limit. Either the people will revolt, or the Communists will come to power. Rich people like Mints are afraid of this.”

The Code for Black Dragons
Midway upon the journey of my life, I found myself in a forest dark. Then I found my Bodhi Tree and sat under it, wondering what the forest was, who I was, and where I was going. I recalled my childhood and formulated four truths that I understood from my friendship with the Mintses.

Truth No. 1. I realized that all my life I had suffered from envy, from unfavorable comparisons and the sense of my own inferiority. I even set aside a page in my diary where I write down all the people I have envied. The habit of constant comparison has nurtured in me a capacity for reflection and self-awareness: comparing myself with others, I become aware of my position vis-à-vis all phenomena in the world.

Truth No. 2. It’s not my fault. The dark forest existed before I showed up, and my path has been shaped by the objective layout of obstacles in the thicket. I have extended this truth to all people. We are not to blame for anything, and especially for our poverty, since we are not able to choose the families into which we are born or the societies in which we live. My son had no choice either.

Truth No. 3. I have to work because I have no property. I have extended this truth to all people. People are the same everywhere, and human need is everywhere the same. The poor man works to live, and the rich man lives off his work, repeating again and again, “If you work harder and better, you’ll become like me.”

Truth No. 4. Their family’s social class is a determining factor in the lives of individuals. But it is merely a historically transitory form, a flaw in the capitalist system that we can overcome through collective effort.

We sit in the same chair, playing the same game. Let’s enter the code for the black dragons and win at last!

But we have been separated by capital—by a billion-dollar chasm.

What can I set against a billion dollars of capital? Only my own existential experience. I’ve seen things you never dreamed of. A crowd dressed in black,  destroying the cozy streets of Copenhagen in a frenzy. Police sirens wailing in the rain, punctuated by singing. Hugs with a masked stranger: we were victorious then. I have seen things that we could have written down in our notebook. Those moments became mine forever, and I would never have wished for anything else.

I finished the text, opened a messenger app, and wrote to you. “Hello! This is Rustam Yulbarisov. We went to school together and were interested in things mystical. Do you still believe in aliens?”

Born in 1988, Rustam Yulbarisov works as a journalist in Moscow and is a socialist. Thanks to Bryan Gigantino for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Thanks, Rashid

Rashid Alimov

Thanks, Rashid: How We Remember Rashid Alimov
Greenpeace Russia
December 18, 2020

Violetta Ryabko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s media department
“Better not open the refrigerator: I brought back radioactive mushrooms from Bryansk Region for analysis!” Rashid once said. I remember how, at the office, I had voiced my desire to go picking mushrooms, and Rashid replied, “Brilliant! We need to make a map of where the radioactive mushrooms near Petersburg are, and where it is better not to pick them.”

Rashid had so much energy and desire to solve the environmental problems he was dealing with. He could spend days and nights reading thousands of pages of reports to find the truth, as he did with the 2017 ruthenium leak, whose cause was revealed to the world by Rashid. He knew how not to give into despair and write about each new attempt to import uranium tailings into Russia. He was attentive to every detail, word, and comma in the materials that we prepared. We wrote a lot of releases together, fought against the construction of a waste incinerator, and issued a brochure that is still used by activists all over the country. It was never just a job. We supported each other, made each other laugh, and figured out how not to burn out and maintain our enthusiasm, even when things didn’t work out.

I remember how once Rashid was trying to obtain a official report from yet another Russian ministry. (I forgot which one, and there is no one else to ask.) His latest request was sent back with something like the following runaround from a ministry secretary: “Lyudmila Petrovna would be very dissatisfied were these data published.” Rashid said that he had no idea who Lyudmila Petrovna was, and could not understand why the data that the ministry was required to send by law had not been provided. He then looked at me enigmatically and asked, “What’s your middle name?” He dashed off the following email: “Violetta Vladimirovna is extremely concerned that the documents have not been sent on time and promises to take immediate action.” We had the documents the next day.

Rashid was a very principled man and a consistent opponent of nuclear energy. I knew that I would always find the answer to any question by asking him. This year alone, he made several hundred comments to media outlets that were not afraid to cover the problems with construction of the Northeast Expressway in Moscow and the importation of uranium tailings for storage in Russia.

But not everyone was so honest. I remember receiving a message from him: “Guess who might be the subject of article entitled ‘A Story of Ordinary Fascism’?” It was a disgraceful, slanderous article about Rashid on the website of pseudo-environmentalists. Later, television presenter Vladimir Solovyov took to the air to say that, while he had been unable to find any compromising material on Rashid, he had learned that Rashid had graduated from the faculty of Oriental studies at Petersburg State University. Rashid really did speak several languages perfectly, which only aided him in becoming a brilliant expert and doing research in a variety of languages.

I remember how I was angry at Rashid for something stupid and wrote a message about it to a colleague, but ultimately I accidentally sent it to Rashid himself. He read it and thanked me. I was so ashamed and amused, and later we would remember this story and laugh. He was such a wonderful, intelligent man. I don’t believe I’m writing about him in the past tense.

Alexei Kiselyov, head of Greenpeace Russia’s toxic waste program
I would start with the fact that Rashid is the person whom we have to thank for the fact that garbage is not burned in Petersburg. He also made sure that public hearings on the proposed incineration plant in Petersburg were canceled, the investor bailed, and the governor rejected the project.

Rashid Alimov (center, standing) at public hearings on the proposed construction of a solid waste incineration plant in St. Petersburg

It was Rashid who wrote the pamphlet “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia,” which is still used by thousands of activists around the country.

Rashid was one of the few people for whom the tragedy of the village of Muslyumovo was personal and who always tried to help them. As well as the city of Novozybkov in Bryansk Region, which suffered from the Chernobyl accident. It’s very hard to believe that he is gone.

Kostya Fomin, media coordinator at OVD Info, former media coordinator at Greenpeace Russia
Rashid was the person with whom I seemingly found it easiest to get along at Greenpeace. At first glance, he was calm, intelligent, and even quiet, but he was terribly in love with his work, purposeful, and assertive. He was never an anti-nuclear fanatic. On the contrary, he always advocated careful, sensitive language. But he was a staunch opponent of dangerous technologies that had misfired many times, ruined people’s lives, and poisoned everything in sight for many years to come. He was a genuine old-school Greenpeace activist.

He was irrepressible in a good way and took on seemingly doomed cases. Not always, but not so rarely, either, he got good results, and I am very glad that I was able be with him at those moments and help in any way I could. I remember how he told me about Petersburg poets and revolutionaries as we walked along the embankment, and boatloads of Greenpeace activists sailed toward a floating nuclear power plant: in the end we made sure that its reactors were not activated in Petersburg, a city of five million people. I remember how a guard at a hospital in Arkhangelsk tried to detain us as we measured the background radiation in the yard, where bags of corpses had been piled after the incident in Nenoksa. I remember how we drew a bucket of water from the radioactive Techa River, in Chelyabinsk Region, to prove that people from the surrounding villages were still in danger. I remember how we spent all day and half the night negotiating a press release reporting that Roshydromet recognized that ten of its weather stations had recorded extreme levels of ruthenium in the atmosphere, and in the morning at the airport, I heard our words repeated on REN TV.

Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that exactly a year ago, Rashid and I had been together too. Activists opposed to the import of uranium tailings to Russia set up barrels marked with radiation danger signs outside Gostiny Dvor, in downtown Petersburg, and Rashid had stood next to them holding a poster. No one was detained, and we celebrated the successful protest at a bar. But when Rashid went home, he telephoned to say that a whole squad of police had caught up with him at the front door of his house. Why the front door? Because they had tried to trick their way into his house, but Rashid’s daughter wouldn’t let them in, and the whole ridiculous “tactical team” had to freeze to death. My friends and I thought that Rashid had raised his daughter well. We’ll all miss you.

Rashid Alimov protesting the importat of radioactive waste from Germany, outside Gostiny Dvor in Petersburg, on December 17, 2029

Vladimir Chuprov, project director, Greenpeace Russia
I spent a long time forcing myself to start writing these lines. I couldn’t even imagine that I would have to do this. I don’t want to say anything trivial: Rashid, of course, deserves more. Such blows make you stop and think about how fleeting life is, and how important it is to appreciate each other here and now, in this life. Rashid knew how to do it. With a kind of incomprehensible oriental inner contemplation, he would calmly accept the most unpleasant news and difficult tasks. He would shrug, hunch his shoulders more than usual, and start listening. Being able to hear means being able to hear life, to halt its quiet elusive moments, even if they are compressed in a telephone receiver’s silence.

Reproaches and complaints to others were all things that Rashid somehow knew how to avoid. Or they bypassed him. Sometimes, I would get mad at something or someone, then I would look at how Rashid reacted to it, and realize that it was all a passing trifle. The nuclear power issue has always been difficult and in many ways thankless, since it is almost impossible to help people affected by radiation: the forces are too unequal, and the inhuman system that Rashid struggled with is too clumsy. But it was Rashid who managed to work calmly in the face of this abyss of grief and powerlessness and give people hope.

I am grateful that I was able to work with Rashid for many years and, most importantly, that I was able to communicate with him in his final days. He conversed with me cheerfully and humorously as always, the way he knew how. It is a pity that Rashid did not live to see what he fought for: a harmonious green world without landfills and smog. May the atheists forgive me when I say this, but although we shall not see Rashid, Rashid will listen to us just as calmly tomorrow and the day after. One day I will tell him how he did it. Just wait, Rashid.

Yevgeny Usov, investigative research and expertise specialist, Greenpeace Russia
Rashid and I first became closely acquainted many years ago while inspecting an illegal landfill in the Kingisepp District, where I filmed an interview with him for television. Then there were trips with him to attend a rally in Pushkin and sample radioactivity in Bryansk Region, expert work for the Presidential Human Rights Council and air quality research in Petersburg, long conversations about various matters and editing international reports.

Calm, reasonable, and interested in many different and surprising subjects—that was Rashid. He did many extremely important things for Russia.

Rashid measured the concentration of solid particles outside the window, the level of radiation in the mushrooms picked by his grandmother, was involved in the blockade of a German train, loaded with radioactive waste, going to Russia, investigated the true size of the country’s mountains of industrial waste, and dug up the truth and helped the truth make its way to people.

Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair, Ecodefense
I met Rashid about fifteen years ago when Ecodefense organized a campaign against the importation of uranium tailings. He was a journalist. In 2007, he joined the campaign and organized protests in Petersburg, where uranium waste was delivered by sea. By 2009, we had managed to stop the import of tailings from Germany, and Rashid made a huge contribution to this victory. Later, we interacted a lot in various campaigns against dangerous nuclear projects.

Rashid was one of the most important people in the Russian anti-nuclear movement. An uncompromising activist, he always adhered to the principle of protecting the public interest come what may. Last year and this year, we corroborated a lot as part of a new campaign against the import of uranium tailings from Germany: we organized a number of protests in Russia and Germany, and, in the end, Germany decided to temporarily suspend this activity. I am certain that Ecodefense and other organizations that were involved in the campaign will continue to fight if the imports are resumed—not only for the sake of preventing harm, but also in memory of Rashid. He would have liked that.

Rashid’s family, as well as the environmental movement in Russia, have suffered an irreparable loss. There is no way to compensate for it. We will remember Rashid as a man who made a huge contribution to the fight against dangerous nuclear projects in Russia and other countries, as a great friend and knowledgeable colleague. It is impossible to repair what has happened, but the memory of our beloved friend Rashid will live on, and we will continue to do what we did with him and in his memory.

Elena Sakirko, head of Greenpeace Russia’s energy department
When I became part of the Greenpeace team, Rashid was almost the first person I met. That was when thirty of our colleagues were in the Murmansk pre-trial detention center and a support group was organized in the city. We had to work with lawyers and journalists, and also get letters, food, and clothes (everything they needed) to the detained activists . I was the translator, and Rashid organized the deliveries. Working almost around the clock, we still found time to communicate. Rashid talked about Greenpeace and environmental protection in Russia: it seemed that he knew everything and was acquainted with all the activists and experts.

From the very first day, Rashid radiation so much warmth and attention, so much patience and endurance, that I just wanted to be as brave and calm, as well-versed in environmental issues as him. Another quality of his that saved me was his amazing sense of humor, his ability in the most difficult situations to look deeply and see what mattered the most. And there was his constant willingness to help. The Murmansk period and the case of the so-called Arctic 30 came to an end—all the activists were released and returned to their homes—but the most important thing about Greenpeace for me seems to reside in the calmness, kindness and courage of Rashid, something that put me in touch then with environmental protection.

Then there was my first picket, in which I stood with Rashid on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. There were also collaborations and projects where we did not intersect, but every time I went to Petersburg, I knew exactly who I wanted to see and with whom I could discuss all my difficulties and problems, who could take me on interesting walks in the city and tell me so much. I think people like Rashid just cannot disappear, they have so much energy and goodness that they shared with us—a whole world.

Rashid had his life’s work to do: regardless of the projects he was involved in, the most important thing for him was always radiation safety. I think it’s very important to continue this work.

Environmentalist and Activist Rashid Alimov Has Died
Activatica
December 18, 2020

Rashid Alimov, an environmentalist, anti-nuclear and climate activist, and project manager of Greenpeace Russia’s energy program, died last night. His death was reported to his wife Olga Krivonos by the doctor on duty at the intensive care unit of the hospital in St. Petersburg where Rashid was being treated for complications of the coronavirus.

Exactly a year ago, on December 17, 20198, Rashid Alimov held a protest action entitled “Russia Is Not a Nuclear Dump” on Nevsky Prospekt outside of Gostiny Dvor. Alimov stood with a banner reading “Russia is not a nuclear dump” at the central entrance to the Gostiny Dvor shopping center. Behind him were activists eleven metal barrels painted with the radioactive danger sign and letters forming inscription “Happy New Year.”

Alimov had worked in environmental organizations since 2001. He was the author and editor of numerous publications on environmental issues, including radiation safety. From 2005 to 2011, he led a campaign in Petersburg against the import of depleted uranium hexafluoride into Russia, as well as the construction of new nuclear power plants. He was involved in Below Two Degrees, a bulletin issued by Russian observers at the UN climate talks.

“Rashid was involved in dealing with issues of waste management, air pollution and nuclear energy. He helped close several landfills, and thanks to Rashid’s work, public hearings on a planned trash incinerator in St. Petersburg were canceled and the governor abandoned the project. Rashid wrote a pamphlet, “What to Do with the Garbage in Russia”, which is still used by thousands of activists throughout the country,” Greenpeace Russia wrote in its obituary.

Two pages from What to Do with the Garbage in Russia, a Greenpeace pamphlet written by Rashid Alimov

Alimov was one of the leading experts in Russia on the problems of toxic environmental pollution. He was a very kind, honest and humble man.

Rashid is survived by his wife, parents, daughter, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

Photos courtesy of Greenpeace Russia and Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Last of the Vepsians

The Last of the Vepsians

The Last of the Vepsians: A Supposedly Nonexistent People in Leningrad Region
Elena Mikhina and Yulia Paskevich
7×7
November 26, 2020

The Vepsian region begins just five hours by car from Petersburg. The Veps (alternately, Vepsians) are a minority ethnic group who seem to have miraculously survived near the metropolis, despite wars, revolutions, and centuries of assimilation. Petersburg journalists Elena Mikhina and Yulia Paskevich went in search of “the last of the Vepsians” to hear their still living language and meet their sorcerers—the noids.

Where Did the Chud Go?
Who are the Veps? We are not talking, of course, about the Yakut shaman who set out to save Moscow from Putin, but the story of the Veps is also well known. They are mentioned in school textbooks on the ancient history of Russia: “The neighbors of the Eastern Slavs were the tribes of the Chud [Veps], the Vod, and the Izhora.”

In the summer of 2019, the Russian president read out an “unusual question” during a live TV call-in show: “Where have the Chud people gone?” He answered, “They have been assimilated. But I’m sure they haven’t completely disappeared yet.”

A Bad Joke
In the regions where the Veps live, a bad joke appeared soon after Putin’s televised comment about “assimilation.” When it is told, the tellers change the name of the regional governor in question:

Putin telephones [Leningrad Region Governor] Drozdenko and asks, “Do you have Veps?
“I do,” Drozdenko replies.
“Send me a couple for a fur collar,” Putin says.

Since the ninth century, the Veps have lived in the region between Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, in the present-day Republic of Karelia, Vologda Region, and Leningrad Region. According to the 2010 census, almost six thousand people identified themselves as Veps, which is not such a tiny number in comparison with the Kereks, of whom there were only four ten years ago. There were many more Veps in the late nineteenth century—25,000 in Petersburg Province alone. Now there are 1,380 of them left in Leningrad Region.

The area settled by the Veps. Courtesy of knk.karelia.ru

The Russian Center of the Vepsian World
Nowadays, the village of Vinnitsy is considered the center of Vepsian culture in the region. The irony is that the village was never Vepsian. On the contrary, it was considered Russian. Local people remember an old saying: “if you go to Vinnitsy, forget the Vepsian language.”

“Vinnitsy was mentioned in the chronicles a whole ten years before Moscow was,” local resident Vera Lodygina says with a hint of pride. She made a unique discovery in the 1980s, when she worked in the local trade union committee and bought up everything she found on the history of Podporozhye on each trip around the district. In one of the pamphlets, she read that the first written mention of Vinnitsy is found in the Charter of Prince Sviatoslav Olgovich in 1137.

Women at the Vepsian festival in Vinnitsy

“I told my party secretary, who reported it to the city committee, then to the regional committee. And since 1987—the 850th birthday of Vinnitsy—we have held the Vepsian Tree of Live celebration in the village,” says Lodygina.

Every year, Veps from all over Leningrad Region, Karelia, and Vologda Region come to the festival. They sing songs in their native language, cook traditional food, and hold a crafts fair.

It is a big event by local standards. The current governor of the Leningrad Region, Alexander Drozdenko, comes regularly. He buys wool socks for his daughter and teas.

Traditional Vepsian embroidery. The piece on the right is inscribed with the phrase “tree of life” in Vepsian and Russian

In 2015, the villagers took advantage of the governor’s goodwill and asked him to build a Veps folklore center for them. The money was found, and the building was built. From a distance it looks old, but in fact it is made from concrete and has an elevator and double-glazed windows. Everything that had accumulated over the previous fifty years in the museums of the local school and cultural center was moved to this “hut.”

One of the first collectors of antiquities was the former school director Viktor Yershov. When he would drag home “all sorts of stuff” from the villages (e.g., spinning wheels, bast shoes, and cast-iron pots), the teacher’s family thought he was crazy.

Vera Lodygina has long been retired, but continues to study Vepsian culture.

“Schoolchildren helped create the museum,” says Lodygina, who joined the antiquities preservation movement even before perestroika. “We would get up at four in the morning, get on the bus at five, travel to the villages, and collect exhibits. Sometimes people would retrieve caftans, dishes, and tools from their attics. I remember this one old woman running after us holding her boots: ‘Here,’ she said, ‘the grandchildren threw them in the trash (the boots were like new). They were cleaning the attic and threw them out. Take them to the museum.’ At home, we washed, boiled, and cleaned all these items. My mother used to say, ‘When are you going to get this dirt out of the house?'”

Although Lodygina is retired and no longer works in the museums, she has set up a home office chockablock with books and brochures. She is especially proud of an album with photos of national dishes prepared by herself, and a plump guest book, in which she collects feedback from all the tourists who come to her house.

People in Vinnitsy are generally happy to comply when asked to talk about the Veps. We had not been standing outside the churches in the town for five minutes when we were nabbed by another local historian, Mikhail Kurilov. First, he took us to a nearly moribund church, which had served as a waste paper warehouse under the Soviet regime, then dragged us to his home to drink tea. Over tea, he regretted that his wife had not backed “wickets”: they are the main local treat, and Kurilov’s wife is the winner of a Vepsian bakers competition. He spoke at length and in detail about the history of the region and the language.

“When the Novgorodians came to the lands where the Veps settled, they set up their own churchyards. It was also a means of propagating their faith, and a place for collecting taxes,” explained Kurilov.

Generally, however, the Veps experienced what everyone else did: villages ruled by landlords, followed by revolution, the Stalinist crackdowns, dekulakization, and an ethnicity forgotten for several decades. From the late 1930s, Veps were identified as ethnic Russians in their internal passports. The Chud turned into ordinary Soviet people. It was only at the end of the twentieth century that they remembered their roots again. Today it is even fashionable to be a rare Veps.

240 Years Old
The pagan Veps converted to Russian Orthodoxy in the tenth century. They converted without conflict, without resistance. Alexander Svirsky, one of the most revered saints in Russia, was a Veps, for example. He was born in a village on the Oyat in 1448 and was named Amos before he took monastic vows.

Although they converted, the Veps did not forget their pagan gods and their spirits—hobgoblins, mermaids, and dryads. They still pray to the lord of the forest, Izhan, when they go mushroom picking.

Noids, Vepsian sorcerers, still live in the villages. Traditionally, noids were men, but many did not return from the Second World War, so women took over the practice of witchcraft.

Veps do not tell strangers about noids nowadays. No matter how hard we searched for a noid, they had all “petered out” in a surprising way a couple of years, months, or even days before we arrived: they had all died, left town, got sick, or got old.

“The ones who could heal used to be here. But now there are no such people, and we take pills when we’re ill. It’s easier and faster,” Klavdiya Yeremeyevna from the Vepsian village of Nemzha assured us. Her friend told us a terrible story from the old days, how a witch had made sure that her father did not return from the war. No one in the village doubted that it was the noid’s fault.

Nemzha is only ten kilometers from Vinnitsy. Previously, more than 300 people lived here, but now people in the village appear in public on schedule: postal delivery and a traveling grocery truck operate three times a week for the thirty remaining residents.

Veps Lyudmila Mikhailovna, Klavdia Yeremeyevna, and Tamara Grigoryevna are some of the last residents of the village. They have known each other almost all their lives. They even calculate their age as a trio: they recently turned 240 years old.

“The old people are dying. There is no work. How can the young people avoid leaving if there are no jobs? The timber plant has closed. The the tree farm has closed. The collective farm has closed. The post office has closed. The shop has closed. The clinic has closed,” they said.

The Nemzha Homemakers: Tamara Yevseyeva, Lyudmila Popova, and Klavdia Nikonova sing the song “Under the Window the Cherry Tree Sways” translated into Vepsian. (In the original Russian, the song is called “A Maiden’s Heart,” and is based on a poem by Boris Timofeev.)

In retirement, three friends—a former librarian, the director of the village cultural center, and a mail carrier—decided to get creative. Their group is called the Nemzha Homemakers. The old women perform Vepsian songs and ditties. They have to borrow their costumes from the Veps Center, however: all their own treasures were donated to the museum long ago.

Unexpected Guests
The road along the northern Bank of the Oyat River—from Alyokhovshchina to Vinnitys—is unofficially called the most beautiful in Leningrad Region. But no one is a hurry to promote tourism here: there are no hotels or camp sites in the area. So if you don’t want to spend the night in the woods, you’ll have to do some fancy footwork. In Yaroslavichi—one of the largest Vepsian villages—we first went to the village store, where the clerks quickly arranged for us to spend the night at Aunt Galya’s house. It didn’t matter that we were nobody to them: they could not leave two young women on the road at night, nor was any question of paying for lodging.

The story of our hostess differed little from those that we had heard in the afternoon: she was born in a neighboring village, married, and worked on a collective farm, and her children have long lived in the city.

In the morning, we wake up to the sound of conversation in the kitchen: pure Vepsian is being spoken. A neighbor lady has come to see Aunt Galya, followed by two thirtysomething twin brothers who make a living by working as day laborers in the village. As soon as we poke our noses out from the curtain, everyone instantly switches to Russian.

In the morning, Aunt Galya feeds us breakfast (pasta with chicken) and tries to explain that there is nothing special there to justify traveling around for a few days. She looks at us as if we are touched in the head. She advises us to travel up the nearest hill, where other people like us (Petersburgers) live in the village of Lashkovo.

An Environmental Life Hack from Old Vepsian Women

Aunt Raya (left) and Aunt Galya live in the same house, each in her own half. Their children have moved away and now they spend most of their free time together.

This mat made from plastic bags can serves its purpose for decades.

In any local history museum they will tell you that homespun rugs are a unique symbol of folk life. Today’s old Vepsian women have gone further, producing something that should be in a museum. They knit mats from plastic bags: a real example of recycling plastic, and the dream of environmental activists.

Not Accepted by His Own Kind
Lashkovo is fifteen minutes away by car. The village is located on the top of a high hill that offers one of the best views in Leningrad Region—it looks almost like the Alps from bottom. In the second house from the road lives Sergei, a legendary character in these parts. We were told about him in almost every conversation, so it was impossible not to stop by his place. The folklore center is proud of him: “We also have young men in our community.” The old ladies tenderly say of him, “Seryozhenka is a good man, but strange.” They are worried that he has separated from his wife. They say that she could not stand the village life: one winter she asked to go to the city and did not return.

Sergei Krylov next to his house in the village of Laskhovo

Sergei Krylov was born and lived all his adult years in Petersburg. A political scientist by education and a graduate of the philosophy faculty at St. Petersburg State University, he never worked a day in his chosen profession.

“In Russia, the people who work as political scientists don’t have the necessary education, and people like me, on the contrary, do not find jobs,” says Krylov.

Consequently, he tried his hand at everything from selling plastic windows and modular partitions to working as a security guard. And at the age of thirty-four, he realized that he was a Veps.

“There is an expression: if you scratch a Russian, you might find a Tatar. Isn’t that how it goes in the original? I scratched myself and found a Veps. I was obsessed with learning the language, and starting a household and a family,” says Sergei.

He is now in his early forties, although he doesn’t look a day over twenty-five. He moved to the village of Lashkovo in 2013. He even remembers the exact date: April 16.

“And on May 1, I had already had a goat, twelve chickens, a rooster, two cats and a dog,” he says.

Sergei found Vepsians under a Russian “shell” on both sides of his family. His grandmother and great-grandmother were from the area. But their villages, and even more so the houses where they lived, are long gone, so Sergei searched for a house via the internet and found one for the price of a heavily used car. He studied farming on YouTube.

“Of course, I was wearing rose-colored glasses: I didn’t have an entirely realistic conception of what I was capable of. That is, if you have never lifted anything heavier than a ballpoint pen in your life, surviving in the village, of course, is not an easy challenge for you. There are exceptions, but I am not one of them,” he says.


The village of Lashkovo, where Sergei Krylov settled

The first challenge was the house. According to the documents, it had been standing for almost a century, but by the time Sergei arrived, it was in decline, rotting and sinking into the ground.

“I thought I could fix the house myself. Or that if I couldn’t do it myself, I could hire people to do it,” Krylov says. “But I never did find any people to do the work. I call that business Vepsian style. You tell people that you have the money and will help them with the job, and everyone tells you that they’re old or their back hurts or make other excuses. I consider myself a Veps, albeit many times removed, and I have great respect for the Veps people, but Veps do not know how to do business. It’s true.”

The second challenge was the household. Sergei kept goats, sheep, a pig, chickens, and bees. He mastered the old-fashioned Russian oven, which he saw for the first time in his life: he threw everything he found into a cast-iron pot and left it to cook, almost like in a slow cooker.

The hardest part was butchering animals.

“The first two times I asked local people to do it, but then I felt ashamed asking them over to slaughter my animals. It is very unpleasant. It’s hard when you raise them yourselves. At such moments, you first pump yourself up emotionally. (Not with alcohol, which I don’t care for.) You have to remember how this kid goat [you’re slaughtering] got loose in the garden, making a mess and gnawing your apple trees. So you psyche yourself up, then quickly go out and do it, and that’s it. I can’t say that it has gone perfectly. But I was managing to do it pretty fast lately,” says Sergei.

While Sergei  managed to get a grip on daily chores, but he has not been able to go native. He started learning his “native” language in Petersburg, but the language that is taught in the city and the one spoken by real Veps are different. The political scientist understands, according to his own estimates, sixty-five percent of what the old ladies in the villages say to him. But he is unable to reply.

During the first few years, he enjoyed getting to know the locals, visiting neighboring villages, and going to tea parties at the folklore center, and the old ladies regarded him with curiosity. It was harder to find male friends.

“They either drink or having nothing to do with [the Vepsian culture revival]. They can speak Vepsian perfectly, but they are bashful about their origins. Unfortunately, the Soviet government broke the back of the Vepsian people. In our conversations, I would ask them about the census, about whether they identified themselves as Veps. No, they would tell census takers that they were Russians. But you’re Veps! I would say to them. Yes, they were Veps, they would say, but they had no idea why they identified themselves as Russians,” Sergei recounts.

Sergei would have identified himself as a Veps. And he would have kept studying the language and helped revive the culture. But the true Veps have refused to adopt this odd guy from Petersburg as one of their own.

“If you were born here, if your history and pedigree are known, then you are a Veps, and they will treat you like a Veps. But if you come from somewhere else, then no matter what you say about your roots, you are Russian. That is, you could say that I am a stranger among my own kind and an insider among strangers. Veps support their own people. A Veps won’t rat on another Veps, but they’ll turn in a Russian at the drop of a hat. For example, in the first or second year of my life in the village, a store in neighboring Yaroslavichi was burglarized. The criminologist was sent to me first. He came, copied down my passport data, and asked leading questions. It was assumed that I had robbed the store. Who else could have done it? Everyone else is a local,” recalls Sergei.

A year ago, Sergei gave up and went to spend the winter closer to the city. Of his entire farm, he left only the bees: they were especially dear to him.

A Literary Newspeak
Veps have no special distinguishing features. If they had any, they left them behind in the ninth century. You cannot tell a Veps from a Russian, Ukrainian, or maybe Izhorian from the neighboring districts of Leningrad Region by looking at their faces. The Veps have also long adopted average Russian names and surnames. Local historians, of course, can talk for a long time about their unique patterns—the “very special” curls and squares with which the Veps decorated clothes and towels. But all this is a matter of the distant past, too, and now everyone shops for clothing in the same stores.

The language is the only thing that has miraculously survived, distinguishing the Veps from everyone else. Vepsian belongs to the Balto-Finnic group, and is closely related to Karelian and Estonian. It is not far from Finnish, so during the Second World War, Veps were employed as translators from Estonian and Finnish to Russian.

For almost a millennium, the Veps lived happily without a written language. The new Soviet government decided to endow them with an alphabet. In 1931, scholars in Leningrad devised a Veps alphabet based on the Latin alphabet and recorded all known words in the language. Textbooks in Vepsian were published, and teachers were trained.

It all came to a grinding halt in 1937. The handful of Vepsian intellectuals were arrested and punished. The Vepsian language was banned in schools. Vepsian textbooks were confiscated.

A Vepsian primer from 1936. Photo: Finno-Ugric Libraries of Russia

Vepsian again became an exclusively oral language. It was spoken at home. Once Veps stepped out of their homes, all conversation was in Russian. Therefore, children had to learn the Russian language specially for school. However, some people were forced to do this before they went to school.

“When the need comes, you learn without noticing it,” says Alevtina Shustrygina, a resident of Vinnitsy. At the age of five, she injured her eye. The case was complicated, so the child was sent to Leningrad on a crop duster. Her parents stayed at home.

Alevtina Shustrygina on the porch of her home

“I didn’t know a single Russian word,” Alevtina recalls. “How did the doctors communicate with me? There I lay for a month, and my entire childish mind was focused on learning the language: there were other children, everyone was talking, and what could I do? When my dad came to pick me up, I had already learned the language. The children in the village were all happy to see me, but I didn’t know Vepsian. I had forgotten it! I probably didn’t speak Vepsian or Russian for a day or two. Then I started speaking Vepsian again and forgot Russian. I had to learn it again in school two years later, but it was easier there.”

The creation of the written Vepsian language began anew in the late 1980s. Now its development and promotion is headquartered in the Karelian capital of Petrozavodsk, where the first Vepsian Culture Society was founded. Books appeared again, and there was even a newspaper in Vepsian. In 1991, textbooks for the first grade were published in Karelia. And while everyone is used to seeing a watermelon (arbuz) on the first page of Russian primers, the Veps primer begins with the word ahven (perch).

But there is a problem. The new language was created artificially. Originally, the northern, central and southern Veps spoken different versions of Vepsian. Moreover, each village could have its own dialect. And native speakers still speak the way they learned in their village. In these circumstances, the literary newspeak is like another dialect: the letters are the seemingly the same, but they’re incomprehensible.

“The northern dialect is almost completely extinct in Leningrad Region. The western vernaculars of the central dialect are still extant. It is spoken in Yaroslavichi, Kurba, Ozera, and Nemzha,” says Igor Brodsky, an associate professor of philology at the Herzen State Pedagogical University. “The southern dialect is extant in the Lodeynoye Pole district, but it is very different from the central one. And the literary language that was invented in Petrozavodsk is based on the eastern dialects of central Veps, which at one time were simply the best-studied in Vologda Region. But this is not the language that is still spoken in Leningrad Region. People in Ozera don’t understand it.”

Brodsky argues that the triumphant propagation of the new Vepsian language is a mistake. While it is happily being taught to beginners, and its advocates report on their successes and show off little books, published in neo-Vepsian, the old dialects are dying off.

Brodsky is outraged.

“What kind of cultural revival can we talk about if we are asked to revive the culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a patriarchal community that has long sunk into oblivion? This culture does not exist and will not exist again. And at the same time, there are no attempts to do a futuristic interpretation of Vepsian culture,” he says.

A Good Evening

“Yesterday” by the Beatles, sung in Vepsian

The Vepsian language, as native speakers explain, was a household language in the twentieth century. During the Soviet years, many songs, tales, and ditties were forgotten. Now Veps are making up for this by, among other things, translating Russian folklore into Vepsian. An old woman sings something in an incomprehensible language, and you recognize “Ryabinushka” or a song from the repertoire of Nadezhda Kadysheva. It has got to the point that “Yesterday” by the Beatles has been recorded in Vepsian, but with new lyrics about “a good evening.”

The Stuff of Legends
“And ‘The Wind Blew from the Sea’ in Vepsian? How do you like that?”

Vyacheslav Vasiliev does not hide his indignation. While playing the accordion, he sings a Vepsian song about fishing, or about an aged beaver that has been bitten on the nose by a carp. As in the north of the Veps region, where everyone is sent to make the acquaintance of Sergei, so in the south everyone has to meet Vyacheslav.

Vyacheslav Vasiliev, leader of the Veps folk group Varasta, sings a Veps song about an old beaver.

The “Vepsian south” consists of villages in the Tikhvin and Boksitogorsk districts, a remote hinterland compared to Vinnitsy. There is no folksy sheen out in these parts, and Veps are often called (somewhat contemptuously) chukars. In the villages, there are also stories of how they conjured up damage and diseases, and destroyed families. Explanations of why they did it, however, have not been preserved in the popular memory

“We were completely forgotten,” says Vasiliev, who is a native Veps. “In our region, say the word ‘Veps’ and people will reply that they live in Vinnitsy. I remember the taunts at school. We were forbidden to speak Vepsian even during recess. Although before that I had heard some words in Russian only when my parents had visitors, distant relatives from the city. And I found it amusing when they spoke Russian.”

After school, his parents sent Vasiliev to study in the city, where he became a successful lawyer. He lived in Leningrad-Petersburg for thirty years, until he was drawn back to the village. He returned and renovated his parents’ house. He recently acquired a horse that he will raise to plow fields and gardens. For the time being, he mows his hay with a scythe. His young wife Anna, also a Veps, keeps busy with the housework.

Vasiliev is not yet ready to move to the village once and for all: there are still things to do in the city. Friends often come from the city to visit him. They say that the lawyer’s house is cozy and pleasant, like grandmother’s house in childhood.

The chapel in Bobrozero is now one of the main attractions.

There is a wide range of opinions about the origins of this stone.

In addition to agriculture, the lawyer is passionate about two things: his folk music group Varasta (he considers it the most proper of such groups, since they stick to the Vepsian repertoire and do everything according to the canons) and the construction of churches. One of them stands in the center of Bobrozero. The door is always open. Inside there are a few icons, brochures, candles—all on trust. A flat gray stone protrudes from the wooden floor in front of the altar.

“I remember there was an old chapel here, then a store was built in its place, but this stone was always there, they didn’t throw it away,” says an old woman we meet in the village.

“What does she remember? The rock? Since childhood? Indeed,” says Vyacheslav sarcastically. “I brought this stone from my grandmother’s house in 1997.”

In neighboring Radogoshchi, the legends are even more interesting. There Vyacheslav built a “chapel” over a spring. True, the “spring” is a water distribution column, where water is supplied by a pump, but those are pesky details.

“The local residents complained that in winter it was difficult to get water from the column because it would be covered in ice. First I built a box over it so that snowdrifts wouldn’t form there. And then a woman said that there was a chapel in Bobrozero, but nothing in Radogoshchi. So then I built a dome with a cross and put it over the column,” explains Vyacheslav.

Like everyone else, Vyacheslav told us about noids who disappeared at the most inopportune times. In one of the neighboring villages, shortly before our arrival, an elderly man had disappeared: he went into the forest down a path and did not return. Rescuers, police, and volunteers went out to search for the missing man, but they did not find him.

“I remember that it happened before: people would get lost in the woods. And each time the locals went looking for them without any appeals to the public, and the noids would stand and say their prayers, and the person would come back. Relatives always went to my grandmother, who knew the incantations. But this time no one thought of such a thing,” Vyacheslav says sadly.

“An Honest-to-Goodness Chukhar”
We had been looking for Veps for five days now. The noids had escaped us in the most magical way: those who “remembered and knew” had traipsed off into the other world. On Friday, we were standing in Bobrozero and looking at the chapel built by the Petersburg lawyer Vyacheslav, when Vitya emerged from a thicket of fireweed, singing a Vysotsky song and carrying a square wicker basket for picking berries.

“Who are you guys looking for?” he asked.

“Veps.”

“You have found what you were looking for. I am a Veps, the last of the Vepsians,  an honest-to-goodness chukhar. I’m going to show you something that will blow your minds.”

We didn’t find a noid, but Vitya offered to tell our fortunes. He didn’t promise anything good.

Vitya is forty-seven years old. He has just returned from picking berries in the woods, and he has big plans for the rest of the day. He trades the berries for money, which in twenty minutes he trades for “the goods” in a neighboring village. A farmer’s wife sells “the goods”: in the evening, milk; in the afternoon, vodka. Vitya is not interested in milk. He calculates as follow: one bottle of vodka per man, one bottle to give away (he had “borrowed” one earlier), half a bottle for us (we are young women, and we do not drink much, but we must be entertained), and two cans of stewed meat for a snack.

“We chukhars are a forest people,” says Vitya, offering a free signature tour of the local swamps and his native haunts.

He desperately wants to show us the real wilderness and laments that we can’t stay for a couple of days.

We follow the Veps to the sound of the bottles clinking in his backpack. It gives Vita strength. “The last of the Vepsians” eagerly tells us about his life. His mother was from a dekulakized family. His father was a troublemaker who roamed with his family from village to village. His brother died sixty days ago. There was also his wife, Tanya, who died in 2014.

“Just as the sun shines and suddenly goes out, so everything became superfluous in an instant when she was gone. I just live and wait for the moment when I will meet her again. I loved her so much,” the honest-to-goodness chukhar says, almost crying.

However, he is still fairly young and quite willing to look for a girlfriend with whom to spend the rest of his life. So he soon goes into “light flirting” mode with one of us.

“What kind of decoration is that on your teeth?” Vitya asks. He has never seen braces.

Vitya casually passes by a dugout boat.

“Tolka sails in that boat,” he says.

“We’ll get to the Island soon. Back in the day, the village was surrounded by water on all sides. Then the water receded, and the Island remained,” Vitya says, continuing the tour. “There used to be lots of houses here. Here is where Grandma Masha lived. Sometimes, when I was coming from the store, she would come out on the porch and tell me to come in. I would tell her I had to go to the village, but she would tell me to come in. She lived alone and wanted to talk. We would have tea and talk.”

The extinct villages are overgrown with grass up to the chest and look like islands in the wild fields.

To the right of Grandma Masha’s house is Grandma Nyura’s hut. There is the same decay and hopelessness: photos scattered on the floor showing what things were like when the village was still thriving; frames without icons (they were removed either by relatives or illegal collectors); a stove that takes up half of the hut.

“And here, if you are believers, we shall stop and pray,” suggests Vitya. “This chapel was built for a reason. Under it there is a stone on which the footprints of Jesus Christ are imprinted: He left them after the resurrection. I’ve seen them myself. But the chapel is locked. It’s old, built in seventeen hundred something, and the boys have made a new roof for it.”

Next to the chapel, Vitya takes out a bottle: “Oh, the vodka is fogging up. Forgive me, Mother of God.” Vitya crosses himself, then takes a sip straight from the bottle. He does not wince. He does not have a bite to eat with his shot. He once again apologizes to everyone.

Vitya has been drinking for several days, and one sip is enough to send him reeling. Suddenly, he switches to politics, saying that he doesn’t need anything from Putin, and just as suddenly he recalls Politkovskaya: “Did they kill her?” The topic of the Veps is exhausted, and we make a difficult decision to part company. Vitya goes into a thicket to collect cloudberries. There has been a good crop of berries this year, and the chukhar knows where to look for them. “The last of the Vepsians” disappears into thicket. The forest welcomes him. It doesn’t welcome us.

We stomped dejectedly home through the forest, past the swamp, through the dead villages, and past another swamp, pouring the water out of our boots for the third time.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos are by the authors. Photos courtesy of 7×7. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vera Ermolaeva

Until recently, a plaque memorializing the Leningrad artist Vera Ermolaeva, executed in the Gulag during the Great Terror,  hung here. Photo: MR7.ru

Last Address Plaque for Artist Vera Ermolaeva Removed in Petersburg
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru
December 8, 2020

The Last Address plaque memorializing artist Vera Ermolaeva has been removed in Petersburg. The news was broken by the Moscow publisher Kirill Zakharov on his social media page after visiting the city.

“[This is] the house on whose first floor Vera Ermolaeva lived. A couple of years ago, a memorial plaque was installed here, but now it has been conveniently removed,” he wrote.

The initiator of the Last Address project, Sergei Parkhomenko, is already aware of the incident and is waiting for information from his colleagues in Petersburg.

“Sometimes it happens that [the plaques] are removed for repairs, then returned. Sometimes it’s different,” he said.

МR7.ru wrote on March 25, 2018, about the installation of a Last Address plaque in memory of Vera Ermolaeva at house no. 13 on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island in Petersburg.

Ermolaeva was arrested on December 25, 1934, as part of the so-called Kirov cohort. As an “anti-Soviet element,” she was sentenced to three years in the camps and sent to Karlag in Kazakhstan. On September 20, 1937, three months before her scheduled release, an NKVD troika sentenced the 43-year-old Ermolaeva to death. She was executed on September 27, 1937 [sic]. She has no grave. We know only the place where the prisoners who died or were murdered in the camp were buried: the village of Dolinka in the Karaganda Region. Ermolaeva had no relatives, so when the 20th Party Congress was held, there was no one who could apply to have her exonerated. She was finally exonerated 1989, due to “lack of evidence of a crime.”

Now you can find everything or almost everything on the internet, including the weather report for December 25, 1934. It was a frosty and clear day in Leningrad— minus 12 degrees centigrade—and the night was cold, too. Ermolaeva’s apartment was probably heated when she left the warm house forever. She lived on the first floor, in apartment number two. She had always lived on ground floors, including at her previous apartment in Baskov Lane, which her father, a landowner and liberal publisher, had bought for her before the revolution. Ermolaeva fell off a horse as a child and could only walk on crutches, so the apartment was purchased because it was next door to her high school and on the first floor. For many years, Ermolaeva lived abroad, studying and getting medical treatment there.

Ermolaeva was a brilliant artist. A member of the Futurist group Bloodless Murder in 1915-16, she was interested in history and graduated from the Archaeological Institute. She was a pioneer of the genre now known as the artist’s book: she designed children’s books as cohesive entities. Her illustrations for the works of Daniil Kharms and Yevgeny Schwartz, and Ivan Krylov’s fables are admired and studied. The famous book written and illustrated by Ermolaeva in 1929—Dogs—has recently been published as a reprint.

The cover of Ermolaeva’s 1929 book Dogs. Courtesy of MR7.ru

Antonina Zainchkovskaya, Ermolaeva’s biographer and the author of a dissertation about her, said during the plaque installation ceremony that it was very important for Russians not to forget about the Last Address plaques. She said that when she was writing her dissertation and studying the relevant NKVD documents, she became psychologically ill. It is impossible to imagine the last three years of Ermolaeva’s life (in the camp, on crutches), nor the last six days, between her verdict and her execution.

Vera Ermolaeva’s Last Address plaque in 2018. Photo: Galina Artemenko/MR7.ru

The person who initiated the installation of the Last Address plaque on the house where Ermolaeva lieved was Ekaterina Yevseyeva, art historian, granddaughter of the collector and Great Terror victim Iosif Rybakov, and wife of the artist Alexei Gostintsev, who was a student of Vladimir Sterligov. Sterligov and Ermolaeva were part of a group of artists pursuing “pictorial and plastic realism.” It was in Ermolaeva’s apartment on Vasilevsky that they met, talked, drank tea, and organized exhibitions. Someone denounced them, and they became part of the Kirov cohort. Sterligov, a student of Malevich, was also arrested, but survived his sentence Karlag and lived until 1975. Gostintsev recalls that it was at the apartment of Sterligov and his wife, the artist Tatyana Glebova, in Peterhof, that he heard from Glebova that Anna Akhmatova had informed her about Ermolaeva’s arrest the very next day.

In mid-October, a property management company decided to remove fifteen Last Address plaques from the wall of a residential building on Rubinstein street. The plaques were found by Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky at the management company’s offices. He was promised that the plaques would be reinstalled after the wall was repaired, but they were not put back in place when the wall was painted.

Thanks to Galina Artemenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________

 

Vera Ermolaeva

1989 saw the publication of the well-known art album and anthology of articles An Avant-Garde Stopped on the Run. The book’s dustcover bore the caption “A book about how the artist Vera Ermolaeva went missing on the shores of the Aral Sea, and then the sea disappeared, too.” If Kazakhstan has been currently tackling the problem of restoring the Aral Sea, along with its salty waves, a truth that was hushed for many years has been reemerging in society, albeit little by little, a truth that should be openly accessible in the history of all countries that have gone through dictatorships and are seeking to go forward democratically, a truth, however, that should include the actual story of what happened to Ermolaeva. The truth is often not as intriguing and mysterious as the caption on a book’s dustcover.

Researchers at the Karaganda Regional Fine Arts Museum established in the same year, 1989, that Ermolaeva, a colleague and comrade of Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich, co-founder of UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art), and Ginkhuk faculty member, had been shot on September 26, 1937, in a labor camp in the village of Dolinka, the headquarters of the Karlag (Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp). How did Ermolaeva end up in Kazakhstan? Why was she shot?

The Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp was established in the Kazakh steppes. It was the largest camp in the NKVD’s Gulag. It was based on the Giant State Farm, and its mission was rural and industrial development. Large-scale arrests in the Soviet Union and forced deportation of whole peoples to Kazakhstan were underway. To this end, the indigenous Kazakh population was driven from their native lands, which caused a famine in 1932–1933 that killed fifty percent of the Kazakh people. Only camp staff, their families, and inmates—an unpaid labor force—lived in the camp. The first inmates were peasant families, accused of being kulaks in Russia, and clergymen. They built the first barracks and railways. They were followed by political prisoners, people convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes.

People were left to live in the Karlag in perpetuity, stripped of their right to move elsewhere, which was tantamount to exile, and it was they who built the first labor settlements in the Karlag. The flow of political prisoners and exiles was so overwhelming that so-called troikas—groups of three officials who decided in lieu of the courts whether prisoners would live or die—were set up nationwide.

The murder of the popular Communist Party leader Sergei Kirov, in 1934, sparked a huge wave of arrests. Artists were caught up in this wave, including Ermolaeva, who hosted exhibitions and gatherings of artists in her flat, a fact noted by the NKVD. Everything about Ermolaeva worked against her: her aristocratic pedigree, her education and free thinking, her trips to Paris and Berlin, and her links to Malevich, who had been arrested twice, jailed a year for “espionage,” and was dying of cancer. By order of the Leningrad NKVD, on December 25, 1934, Ermolaeva was denounced as a purveyor of anti-Soviet propaganda and member of a counterrevolutionary group that had tried to establish illegal communications channels with foreigners. She was charged under Articles 58-10 (“anti-Soviet agitation”) and 58-11 (“organizing anti-Soviet activity”) of the Soviet Criminal Code. Article 58 had a total of fourteen clauses, and the first of these dealt with crimes punishable by death. On March 29, 1935, Ermolaeva was convicted by an NKVD Special Council as a “socially dangerous element.” Although her exact crime was not specified, she was sentenced to three years in a labor camp and dispatched to the Karlag. Her sentence went into effect on March 27, 1935, rather than retroactively on the day she was arrested. She was arrested, convicted, and transported to Dolinka along with Vladimir Sterligov, who later founded a painterly system derived from Suprematism, and several other of Malevich’s disciples.

During interrogations, the NKVD staged one-on-one confrontations between Ermolaeva and Sterligov. When they were sent to Kazakhstan, they were assigned to the same train car. Disabled since childhood and paralyzed in both legs, Ermolaeva walked on crutches. She found the trip to Kazakhstan quite agonizing, especially when the guards ordered the convicts to lie down and get up during stops and when exiting the train in the steppes. Emaciated after his spell in prison, Sterligov would help Ermolaeva get up from the ground, scarcely able to lift the tall, stout, heavy woman.

After arriving in Dolinka in April, Ermolaeva was immediately assigned to work as an artist in the Karlag’s agitprop and cultural education unit. Ermolaeva worked a great deal, designed posters, and showed her work at exhibitions in the camp. Her pieces were even sent to a show in Moscow. In Dolinka, she lived among the exiles at 56 First Street. She was noted for her politeness, discipline, and ability to get things done. She attended political education classes, was generally enthusiastic about everything and interested in everything, and was involved in clubs, amateur art activities, and theatrical productions, which she staged along with Sterligov and fellow avant-gardist Pyotr Sokolov, productions in which other convicts performed. She worked overtime, earning the title of “shock worker,” which meant that more workdays were added to her record and, consequently, were supposed to lead to her early release.

The reasons why Ermolaeva was shot and the circumstances of her final days in the camp have been ascertained. On September 14, 1937, Ermolaeva was issued a release warrant, but on the evening of the same day she was indicted under Criminal Code Articles 58-10 and 58-11. She was interrogated, searched, and accused of associating with four counterrevolutionaries, members of anti-Soviet political parties who were convicts in the camp. She had, allegedly, allowed them to use her apartment for secret meetings and sent illegal letters to other sections of the Karlag. Ermolaeva made a huge mistake by pleading partly guilty to the charges, claiming she was merely acquainted with the convicts in question and had conversed with them only about literature, art, and their families. Although her partial conviction was sufficient, eyewitness testimony was also included in the case against her. Thus, on September 17, 1937, Ermolaeva was indicted along with eight other people.

On September 18, due to a bureaucratic mix-up, Ermolaeva was told her release papers were being drafted, and she would be sent under armed escort to Karabas, where her case file (No. 3744/37) was being processed. On September 20, Ermolaeva successfully applied for release from Dolinka and left for Karabas. The very same day, she was retried in absentia by a NKVD troika and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, her case file did not turn up in Karabas, and her name was not on the lists of convicts scheduled for release. Ermolaeva was held in a remand prison in Karabas until September 25, when she was sent back to Dolinka. Upon arrival, she submitted a written explanation of where she had been the past several days. The next day, September 26, 1937, she was shot.

Ermolaeva was exonerated posthumously, due to a lack of evidence, by the Karaganda Regional Prosecutor on November 21, 1989.

Ermolaeva’s life came to a tragic end during the height of the Great Terror of 1937–1938. During this period, Stalin’s totalitarian regime destroyed the pride of the Soviet people, mainly members of the intelligentsia—scholars, educators, artists, and cultural workers—sparing neither women nor children.

Excerpted from Aigul Omarova, “The Tragic Lives of the Artists in Karlag,” Bread & Roses: Four Generations of Kazakh Women Artists (Berlin: Momentum, 2018), pp. 34-43. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell. Photo of Vera Ermolaeva courtesy of MR7.ru

Partyzanski Praspekt, “August”

partyzanski praspekt-logo

On Sunday, December 6, 2020, the Belarusian poet and performer Uladzimir Liankevič was detained on his way home from his band’s rehearsal. The next day, he was sentenced to 15 days in jail. 23.34 and 23.4 are the two articles of the criminal code under which he was convicted by the court or, rather, by its grotesque totalitarian parody. Belarusians know all too well what these numbers mean: “violating the procedure for organizing or holding mass events” and “disobeying a law enforcement officer.”

Liankevič was previously detained in September, spending six days in the Zhodzina Temporary Detention Facility.

Released on November 14, 2020, the recent song by Liankevič’s band Partyzanski Praspekt bears the anachronistic title “August.” Why would they sing about August in November?

This is the explanation that the band wrote on its Facebook page, alluding to the state terror that erupted in Belarus following the failed presidential election of August 9, 2020:

Everything that is happening in our midst cannot fail to move us. So we wrote a new song titled “August.” We wanted the events of that month to stay there, but they, unfortunately, have continued.

The song depicts the parallel lives of two modern Belarusian revolutionaries, whose civic awakening takes place after the government deployed tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and stun grenades against the peaceful protesters.

The lyrics contain the following local references:

  1. Minsk toponyms that have symbolic significance in the geography of protest: the Stela or Minsk Hero City Obelisk, Nyamiha Street, and Masherau Avenue.
  2. Two of the country’s most infamous detention facilities, Okrestina and Zhodzina.
  3. The minivans used by the riot police as transportation.
  4. “Blue fingers”: a meme alluding to the dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s quip that he would not keep his grip on power until his fingers turned blue.
  5. The letter at the end of the video is addressed to “TsIP,” the “offender isolation center” (literally) or “temporary detention facility.”

Жнівень

Здымная хата
На апошняй станцыi метро
Чарговая праца
На якой ен для начальнiка нiхто
Ен цярпеў i нават не марыў
Адарваць чужыя пальцы сiнiя ад шыi
Ды спачатку голас скралi
А потым прабудзiлi
Светлашумавы

Лiчы што не жыў
Лiчы што не жыў
Да гэтага жнiўня

Калi прагучалi
Першыя стрэлы
Ты мог яго бачыць на Стэле
Калi прыпынiлiся бусы паблiзу
Ен быў разам з табой на Нямiзе
Ты дома сядзеў духам упаўшы
Ен iшоў за цябе
Па Машэрава
Маршам

Газ вадаметы на суткi за краты
Ягоныя вочы найлепшы з плакатаў
З яго галавы волас ня ўпала
Анiводзiна
Аднак ен быў сiнi весь
Як выходзiў з Жодзiна
Сцяна сцяна
Дзверы
Насупраць сцяна
Гэта сведкi таго
Што з iм было на Акрэсцiна

Яна паступiла
У сталiчны унiвер
За некалькi курсаў
Да гнiлой сiстэмы страцiла давер
Знiкла прага да жыцця
Знiклi мары
Маркота раз’ядала да той самай суботы

Яе спачатку ўразiлi людзi
А потым прабудзiлi
Газ i вадаметы

Не хацелася жыць
Не хацелася жыць
Да гэтага жнiўня

Калi прагучалi
Першыя стрэлы
Ты мог яе бачыць на Стэле
Калi прыпынiлiся бусы паблiзу
Яна была разам з табой на Нямiзе
Ты дома сядзеў духам упаушы
Яна шла за табой па Машэрава маршам

Газ вадаметы на суткi за краты
Ейныя вочы найлепшы з плакатаў
З яе галавы волас ня ўпала
Анiводзiна
Аднак яна сiняя ўся
Выходзiла з Жодзiна
Сцяна сцяна дзверы
Насупраць сцяна
Гэта сведкi таго
што з ей было на Акрэсцiнa

August

A rented apartment
At the last metro station
Another job
Where he means nothing to his boss
He put up with it and did not even dream
Of tearing someone’s blue fingers from his neck
But first his vote was stolen
And then the stun grenades awoke him

Consider that he didn’t live
Consider that he didn’t live
Until this August

But when the first shots were fired
You could see him at the Stela
When the minivans parked nearby
He was with you on Nyamiha
Crestfallen, you stayed at home
But he marched for you
Down Masherau Avenue

Tear gas and water cannons
They threw him behind bars
His eyes are the best protest art
Not a single hair fell from his head
Not a single one
However, he was all blue
That’s how he left his jail cell in Zhodzina
A wall a wall a door
And another wall opposite
These witnessed
What happened to him
On Okrestina

She enrolled in a Minsk university
During the first years
She lost her faith in a rotten system
Her desire to live was gone
And her dreams were gone
The depression held her until that Saturday

At first, she was surprised by her people
And then the tear gas and water cannons
woke her up

She didn’t want to live
She didn’t want to live
Until this August

But when the first shots were fired
You could see her at the Stela
When the minivans parked nearby
She was with you on Nyamiha
Crestfallen, you stayed at home
But she marched for you
Down Masherau Avenue

Tea gas and water cannons
They threw her behind bars
Her eyes are the best protest art
Not a single hair fell from her head
Not a single one
However, she was all blue
That’s how she left her jail cell in Zhodzina
A wall a wall a door
And another wall opposite
These witnessed
What happened to her
On Okrestina

Introduction, commentary and translation from the Belarusian by Sasha Razor

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime

Shohista Karimova. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL

Shohista Karimova: Convicted of Someone Else’s Crime
Natalia Sivohina
Zanovo
Decemrber 6, 2020

Tomorrow, December 7, a court hearing will be held in the Moscow suburb of Vlasikha on the appeal of the verdict against of Shohista Karimova. The name of this middle-aged woman from Uzbekistan, who worked as a food prep worker in the Moscow Region, surfaced in the media in connection with the criminal case into the 3 April 2017 terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway—and, most likely, it was immediately forgotten. Journalist Natalia Sivohina recalls Karimova’s story.

On 3 April 2017, an explosion occurred in the Petersburg subway on a train traveling between the stations Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut, killing 16 passengers and injuring about a hundred.

The security forces voiced several conflicting explanations of the tragedy, but soon reported that the perpetrators had been found.

In the dock were eleven people, migrant workers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. According to investigators, they were members of an Islamist organization.

On 5 April 2017, relatives of one of the future defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven, Muhamadusup Ermatov, reported him missing. As he later told human rights activists and journalists, he had been kidnapped. The kidnappers (presumably FSB officers) put a plastic bag over Ermatov’s head, beat him up, intimidated him verbally, tasered him, and demanded that he give the testimony they wanted to hear.

Other defendants in the subway bombing case also claimed they had been subjected to the same “investigative methods.” The evidence obtained under torture was the basis of the sentences the defendants received on charges of terrorism. Karimova, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Karimova worked as a food prep worker in a café near Moscow. According to the case file, she “provided the [terrorist group] with means of communication.” As she said later, she lent a phone to her coworker and, later, co-defendant Abror Azimov. That was the extent of her alleged involvement in the bombing.

When FSB officers came to her house, the Uzbek national meekly complied with all their demands: she held the detonator in her hands, leaving her fingerprints on it, and let them take DNA swabs of her mouth and scalp.

Karimova trusted the authorities and hoped to the last that the truth would out. In the end, however, she was found guilty of possessing a bomb on Tovarishchesky Lane in Petersburg, a city to which she had never been before she was arrested.

Karimova had come to Russia to help her daughter. She worked for 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 400 euros a month in 2017] and sent money home to her family. The verdict sent her into shock: her terrible screaming during the reading of the verdict was included in journalistic accounts of that day. But few journalists wrote anything about Karimova’s own story.

Screenshot of a letter, quoted below, sent by Shohista Karimova from prison, dated 18 May 2020

“When a guard at Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 2 asked why I didn’t go out for a walk, my cellmate replied that I was afraid. I was so afraid that a man in the uniform might hurt me—I was scared and cried constantly. My brain was just turned off. After a year, I started to recover from the stress and the extreme emotional state. And I was very afraid for my loved ones: they could have been framed as well,” Karimova wrote in a letter to a friend, adding, “I now believe that any innocent person can be charged [with a crime they did not commit].”

What the Defense Says
I spoke with Karimova’s lawyer, Viktor Drozdov.

How did you end up taking Shohista’s case? How did it all begin?

I received a call from a person who had previously been in prison and knew the law enforcement system firsthand, and then from other human rights defenders. They asked me to work pro bono on the case, whose defendants were initially represented by court-appointed lawyers. We met and talked, and I agreed to serve as Shohista’s defense counsel.

The tragedy in April 2017 and the media coverage that followed it had attracted my attention. I followed the case quite closely, comparing various reports. It raised a lot of questions, and I decided to find answers to them. I found them.

You have appealed the apparently wrongful verdict. Why do you think it is important to go all the way in this trial?

The defense lawyer’s job is to debunk the prosecution (during trial) and the illegality of the sentence (as now, on appeal), and always be ready to defend their client in subsequent phases in the process. What does “going all the way” mean? The real end came long ago: the justice system was completely “bankrupted” by this trial. It has neither been willing nor able to respond to any of the defense’s arguments.

Does Shohista believe in the possibility of getting justice? What does she think about the upcoming appeal?

Until recently, she had great faith in Putin. She wrote him letters to which she received no response. I don’t ask her that question now. Shohista is painfully aware of the circumstances that caused her to end up in prison completely unexpectedly and absurdly. She knows perfectly well and shares my position on her defense, which is that by defending her, I am defending the Russian justice system, first of all, and her future  depends on it.

Shohista is a hostage to the political interests of people who are now quite powerful.

I have started naming these people on my little Telegram channel. They all were involved or somehow complicit in the #Metro17 case.

After the verdict, Shokhista wrote a letter to Judge Andrei Morozov, congratulating him on finally pacifying Russian society by “finding the terrorists” and wishing him health and happiness.

How many lawyers are currently defending Karimova?

Two: the lawyer Sergei Shostak, who joined the defense at my request, also pro bono, and fully shares my position, and me.

Despite the obvious inconsistencies in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven and the defendants’ complaints of torture, the case did not fall apart in court, and the defendants received huge sentences. Why do you think this happened?

The answer, perhaps, can be found in the verdict itself and in the way the trial was run. The text of the verdict does not cite any of the arguments the defense made, nor does it analyze the events of 3 April 2017 themselves. The court point-blank refused (sic!) to examine the [bombed] subway car as material evidence or the improvised explosive devices, entered into evidence by the prosecution, nor did it uphold any significant defense motion on the merits of the charge. And it allowed the illegal presence of unidentified and unmarked masked persons armed with firearms in the courtroom.

The court was neither independent nor fair. I personally feel very sorry for the judges. They did something vile.

Can ordinary people help defendants in political cases?

“Ordinary people” cannot do anything. But I believe in the capabilities of my fellow citizens—caring, thoughtful, and ready to tell the truth. The internet, petitions, collective appeals, and publicity can help—especially publicity.

* * *

The obvious inconsistencies in the case and testimony by the defendants that they had been subjected to hours of torture during the investigation did not prevent the trial court from finding them guilty and sentencing them to long terms in prison.

So far, there has been no massive grassroots campaign demanding a normal investigation of the case of the Petersburg Eleven. The medieval division into “friends” and “foes” has been firmly established in Russian society. Actually, this is nothing new: this is what usually happens amidst the wreckage of social institutions that have become obsolete.

First, people are evaluated by skin color, then people from the “wrong” ethnic groups are imprisoned: all this happened relatively recently by the standards of history. The country that conquered fascism interrogates hundred-year-old veterans who sacrificed their health and strength in that long-ago war with fascism. The so-called prosecution throws random people behind bars—disempowered construction workers, maintenance men, and kitchen workers from the former fraternal republics. So-called public opinion equates the concepts of “immigrant” and “terrorist.” The so-called state turns into a madman fleeing from its own shadow.

Zanovo Media will keep you updated about the plight of Shohista Karimova and the other defendants in the trial of the Petersburg Eleven.

_____________________

Earlier today, Natalia Sivohina posted the following on her Facebook page by way of prefacing her article: “Recently, I posted a link to the website Zanovo, and today I published my first article there. The article is about Shohista Karimova, who worked as kitchen prep in the Moscow Region and was a defendant in the case of the terrorist attack in Petersburg. This ordinary, very nice woman visited our city for the first time after her arrest. No one knows the current whereabouts of the people actually involved in the crime committed in April 2017. But it is now quite clear to me that the defendants in the case of the Petersburg Eleven are random people who incriminated themselves under torture. Alas, this is the case in today’s Russia, which likes to rant about the ‘fight against fascism.’ Knowing about this case makes me uneasy. I felt quite scared when I wrote this article and talked to Shohista’s lawyer. But, you know, there are things that you can’t keep quiet about, because they concern everyone. Please, if you haven’t heard anything about  Karimova, read this article about her. The hearing of the appeal against her verdict is scheduled for tomorrow. I really want to hope for the best.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my previous posts on the presumed terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, the case against its alleged “financers and planners,” its roots in the Islamophobia that has infected Russia under Putin, and the shocking lack of local and international solidarity with the eleven Central Asian migrant workers scapegoated and convicted in the case:

The New Authoritarianism & Memory Activism (Upcoming Web Lectures)

Russia’s New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
11:00am-12:00pm
Virtual Event

Webex Session:

https://gwu.webex.com/gwu/onstage/g.php?MTID=e2bb03137d78716ed2604aa06059d9676

David Lewis’s recent book Russia’s New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order takes a new conceptual approach to understanding the nature of the Putinist regime in Russia. The book explores how illiberal ideas have shaped Russia’s political debates and influenced both domestic and foreign policy. It highlights the affinity of many aspects of Russian illiberalism with the ideas of the controversial jurist and Nazi supporter Carl Schmitt, particularly the ideas of sovereignty and exceptionality, which are illustrated in the book by case-studies of Russia’s judicial system and the annexation of Crimea. In foreign policy, the book discusses the importance of spheres of influence in Russia’s worldview, and explores the messianic elements involved in Russian policy in Syria. It concludes with a discussion of how Russia’s authoritarian turn fits within a wider global trend towards illiberal politics and authoritarianism.

David G. Lewis is Associate Professor of International Relations in the Department of Politics at the University of Exeter. Before joining the University of Exeter, David held academic posts in the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and worked for the International Crisis Group in Central Asia and in Sri Lanka. He has written extensively on politics and security in Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and on different aspects of international relations and peace and conflict studies. His books include The Temptations of Tyranny in Central Asia (Hurst, 2008) and Russia’s New Authoritarianism: Putin and the Politics of Order (Edinburgh University Press, 2020). His recent research has been on the rise of illiberal ideas and authoritarian practices in global politics, particularly in relation to conflict management and peace-making. He is currently (2019-2021) on part-time secondment as an ESRC-AHRC Research Fellow at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

Last Address memorial plaques in Petersburg
Dear all, you are warmly invited to the next CEES/CRCEES seminar on Wednesday, December 9th, 4:00-5:30pm. All are welcome!

Wednesday, December 9th

4:00-5:30pm

Zoom Meeting link:

https://uofglasgow.zoom.us/j/94413559725?pwd=ZW5jOTVTVURra2MyTzhrMzF2T2kxZz09

Meeting ID: 944 1355 9725

Passcode: 073247

Dr Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovic 

Department of Anthropology 

University of St. Andrews 

The Name and the Number of the Dead in Memory Activism in Moscow 

Every fortnight, anti-Stalinist activists in Moscow install name plaques on the façades of houses where someone was arrested in the period between 1937 and the early 1950s. On October 29, on the eve of the official day of commemoration of victims of political repressions, thousands of Muscovites participate in the annual name reading ceremony at the Solovetsky stone, a monument to the victims of political repressions, placed outside the Federal Security Services headquarters (previously, NKVD and KGB) on Lubyanka square. Daily, memory activists and volunteers rake through archives and attics in a relentless quest for forgotten names and diaries, and record these names in memory books and catalogues, as well as copy, multiply, digitise and publish them in online archives.

The impetus for my key argument is an ethnographic observation that the memory activists I met in today’s Moscow give primacy to the singular names of each victim over the final total number of people executed during Stalin’s reign. Such activities reflect a familiar but largely unacknowledged and undertheorized propensity to document, catalogue and speak out the names of victims of atrocities, be it a military conflict or acts of political terror. Arranged as an alphabetical or random sequence, the names are guarded against statistical reason, or the “mania for exact numbers” (Merridale 2000:5) of the official national historiography in Russia. Importantly, the lists of names do not differentiate between a victim and an executioner, between an atheist and a devout priest, or between a Russian and a Jew. This way, the names do not contribute to boundary-policing of sovereignties, national mourning, and aspirations to national unity. Instead, the activists simultaneously assign each name a value of singularity and collect the names into infinitely long registers that establish an undifferentiated, nonnumerical kind of totality: a multitude of the living and the dead. I will argue that the practices of collecting and monumentalizing names of the dead afford an understanding of how the relationship to an unwitnessed historical mass murder and its absent subjects is instituted.

The CEES Seminar Series is kindly supported by the Macfie Bequest.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy and CISR for the heads-up. || TRR